Authors: S.M Welles
S. M. WELLES
The Infamous Captain
What remained of Newport, Rhode Island’s streets did its best to break both my ankles as I ran. Chunks of pavement unglued themselves from the mud with a squelch, making it feel like each foot was treading on separate decks in high seas. The mud itself sucked on my boots, trying just as hard to pitch me face-first into what passed for roads for a hundred years now. Why did unwanted company have to arrive every time I wanted a cheeseburger?
One of the largest steam frigates I’d ever seen had made berth next to mine sometime in the last hour. Not good--not because of its harpoons, but because of its mere presence. There were only about a hundred frigates left cruising the entire Atlantic, each with their own territorial port. Newport was sort of my territory--only sort of--and that’s the way I wanted it to stay. And right now half of my crew was either grabbing supplies or filling their stomachs.
Homes and stores whipped by, a clash of lumber, stone and some plywood structures patched with scraps of aluminum siding, and I slipped more than ran into the open port. Resonant voices rang out, advertising fish, beef, vegetables and whatnot to the grey and brown masses slinking from one open stand to the next. Geeze, what a contrasting picture from the 2100’s. It was hard to look at sometimes.
“Out of my way!” I pushed through the crowd, practically doing the breast stroke with my arms, but not hard enough to knock anyone over. I’m a jerk--to an extent. People turned and voiced their anger, but no one got beyond “Hey!” or “What the heck, man?”
One said, “It’s Dyne! Let him through!”
The sardines parted for me as if I were a marlin charging through their school. One of the perks of infamy. Much better.
I shot a glance over my shoulder. Mido, my ship’s cook. Hopefully he’d been fortunate enough to finish a pint before glancing out the bar window. I slowed my pace, and sure enough I could smell beer and barbecue sauce on his breath. Lucky bastard.
“How long have they been there?”
Mido nodded and began out-sprinting me. Didn’t help that I had a trench coat and steel-toe boots weighing me down. My cook ran more freely in his cargo jeans and a hole-plagued tank top. His arms, which caused girls to flock to him, pumped hard.
Mido came to a sudden halt on the dock when the crowd stopped parting for him. Two massive sterns loomed just below the early afternoon fog. Everyone was ogling at the most recent “clash of the captains” as two crews gathered on their respective decks. These people couldn’t wait to see my undefeated streak for Newport come to an end. But if these people wanted to see a more interesting clash, they needed to get out of my way first.
“Captain, it’s Tethys’s ship!”
I swore. “I guess we didn’t put a big enough hole in their hull.” We shoved our way through the crowd, earning more infamy points, and after Mido had climbed the rungs I leapt onto the stern’s ladder. Contact with the
rusted steel brought some relief. My ship. My physical soul, and it looked as ragged and beat up as I was. But she was just as stubborn and hardy as well.
I heaved myself onto the open deck with a grunt and strode over to port, where Tethys’s crew was throwing grappling hooks onto my railing. A bold move. But stupid. “All hands to arms!” Three men already had their swords drawn and glass grenades belted around their waists. Three more stomped up from below deck and joined Mido in collecting their weapons from the crate stowed against the wheelhouse. They fastened them around waists or over shoulders kept strong and lean from years of labor at sea. The rest of my crew popped over the starboard railing one at a time, each weighed down by duffle bags of provisions. They dropped their bags by the ladder and grabbed more swords and glass grenades. “Scully, man the Harpy.”
Scully, the last one to board, dropped his sack next to the rest and ran for the harpoon gun mounted on the bow. Two of Tethys’s most eager crew members zip-lined their way to my ship.
“Hold your positions!” I drew the knife I often kept inside my trench coat, marched up to the railing and cut the nearest rope. A scream reached up through the gap between ships, and then a splash followed. I picked off the hook, aimed it for the middle of the splash ring, and let it fall.
Ten feet away was another grappling hook. I stood before the trembling rope and let the guy pop his head over the railing. He pulled his sword out of his mouth and swung at me as he roared. I leaned out of the sword’s arc and gave the kid a left hook right in the nose. He let go of the rope, saving me the effort of throwing him into the ocean. The rest of my crew lined up along the railing with swords and glass grenades. I held out my arms, ordering my men to back up. A dozen more grappling hooks with steel leads arced into the air and clanged onto the deck, right where we had been standing. The hooks zipped back towards the other ship and pinned themselves against my railing with a discord of clangs. The ropes tightened.
My more ballsy crew members stood ready for a fight as they waited for the opposition to zip over. Tethys’s men tied the ropes to their wheelhouse, providing them with a downward slope. They clipped zip hooks and rode over like a bunch of laundry being hung out to dry. Except this bit of laundry needed to either be rewashed or burned. Where was their sense of pride in their appearance? “Let’s get ‘em!”
Boots and sword points led the way as Tethys’s men swung themselves over my railing. Swords clanged and scraped, and meaty fists bashed into equally meaty heads and torsos as I hung back, waiting for the only man worth fighting as he climbed onto a crate and hooked himself to a taut rope. Tethys was a huge man in both height and girth, but most of that girth was muscle flexing under his sleeveless leather jacket and black shirt. The rope sagged under his weight, dropping him to eye level with my railing halfway across. I put away my knife and drew my sword as his weight sunk him below my line of vision. I flinched at the sound of a huge, heavy clang against the side of my ship. The shouting and sword fighting sagged as well, then resumed when one of Tethys’s hands gripped the lower rung of the railing. His face, topped by the worst widow’s peak I’d ever seen, rose into view. He hurdled over, his landing making the deck vibrate, and stomped towards me.
Good god, this sucker’s huge. My eyes were level with his collar bone. I’d never noticed before since we’d only yelled at each other from the safety of our own decks.
I glanced at the battling crews. A fair few had sustained injuries on both sides, and a few more were down, probably dead. A wave of sorrow passed through me before I could detach myself from such emotions.
“It’s time someone took Newport from you, Dyne,” Tethys said in a gravelly voice. His voice was as intimidating as his sheer size, like a father’s whose calm voice scared you straight more than his raised voice.
I put up my sword. “Not you, bud.”
Tethys stood just outside of sword’s reach. “You and me: one-on-one duel right now. For the port.”
“Do I look like some sort of honorable mercenary who duels?”
Tethys looked at me blankly, then roared and came at me, steel first.
I barely slapped his sword away as I fell into a backwards roll. As soon as my feet were back under me, I popped up and ran for the bow. The muscle-brain stomped after me as I cut every rope linking our ships. I realized my maneuver was a bad idea when I heard a grappling hook whiz by my head, its steel leader just missing my ear. The hook got snagged in a tarp covering a lifeboat. “Scully! Take aim!”
Scully spun the harpoon around and aimed the man-sized spear just over my head.
I passed it off as an honest mistake made in the heat of battle. “That way, you idiot!” I pointed at the other ship’s hull with my sword, more specifically at the bad patch job in the
’s hull that a bunch of morons called welding.
Even though Scully had the best aim of my entire crew, and even though I trusted him to be able to pick off a moving target right behind me, I didn’t feel like having to patch up a large hole in my deck. Scully and the Harpy spun into position with a hiss of hydraulics. The spear dipped a little, ready to punch through eight inches of steel.
The heavy pursuit of boots stomped to a standstill. I turned around to see Tethys glaring at the Harpy, his sword arm hanging low. “Bastard,” he muttered.
“You mean ‘asshole.’ ‘Bastard’ is a compliment in my book.”
He snarled, then turned and stomped away as he sheathed his sword with a stiff thrust, his overly long ponytail swishing behind him. I ordered Scully to keep his sights on the enemy’s hull, then headed for the stern.
Tethys bellowed to his men to stop fighting and jump ship. Part of me thought it would be amusing to have my crew chase the others and force them to jump into the ocean, but that would make it take longer to escort them out of Newport. Instead I ordered them to stand down but keep their weapons drawn.
Fighting came to an awkward halt. Tethys’s men kept their swords up as they backed or sidestepped towards my starboard ladder. One by one they sheathed their swords and descended as my crew inched closer. Three of my men stared over the railing, hopefully to make sure none of the sailors vandalized my ship during their retreat. Tethys descended last and I hoped my ladder could support his weight. He could probably undo a good welding job with just one arm.
He smirked at me right before his balding head disappeared over the side.
I sheathed my sword. “Sam, get O’Toole.”
“Sir?” Sam raised an eyebrow that disappeared under his mop of sandy hair.
“Just in case.”
The crew that heard me tensed up. I didn’t blame them. But a man who has just got outmaneuvered doesn’t smirk.
Sam hesitated, then sheathed his sword and ran below deck.
“Mido, come with me.” I hurried to the ladder and looked down. It was still perfectly attached, and devoid of Tethys and crew. I grudgingly descended the ladder, not wanting to part with my physical soul once again. My feet belonged on deck. Dry land, and even docks were eerily inert and dead-like. You could walk all over such places as you pleased. The ocean never lets anyone forget who’s boss, and often takes lives as it sees fit. But that was another battle for another day...
Just as I feared, Tethys’s crew wasn’t scurrying back to their own ship; they were closing in on Newport’s civilians. I let myself drop the last three rungs and hit the dock running. “Tethys, just board your own ship, damn it!” Newport would both thank and hate me for protecting them. Tethys was a less welcome captain than myself.
The locals nearest him lost their scowls when he drew his sword. An audible gasp ran through the crowd. It started dispersing, but the docks were too congested for everyone to get away. I drew my sword and intercepted the other sword’s downward arc as I pushed a lady out of its way. She hit the ground pretty hard, then scrambled to her feet and took off without looking back. Smart broad.
Tethys rounded on me and next thing I knew I was looking at the sky and couldn’t breathe. I had fallen spread-eagle onto the dock. I let go of my sword, clutching my sternum. Before I could come up with a way to protect the landies, Mido appeared over me, sword in hand. He squared off with Tethys, then charged in but, being severely outweighed, was sent onto his back right next to me. Tethys and his crew began to chase down civilians with swords and glass grenades, while all I could do was lie there, propped up on one elbow, and force air into my lungs.
Three glass grenades shattered against the sides of buildings. Screams of agony pierced the air as the grenades’ acidic contents burned people alive. More screams join the first round, but were cut short. Seagulls took off squawking.
I pushed to my feet, even though it felt like it made my lungs smaller, and reached inside my trench coat. “Tethys!” He ignored me and grabbed hold of the elderly man who ran the cod and haddock stall. “Get on your ship or I kill you where you stand!”
Tethys turned, then lost his sneer and went pale when he saw the handgun I held pointed at him.
The fish vendor eyed the gun’s barrel and screamed. “Put that thing away!” He struggled so hard he ripped his shirt from Tethys’ grasp and fell on his bony rear.
Before he could get up, the air got frigid and the wind died. The seagulls fell silent. No one moved. Not even Tethys or me. Then, as if they came out of the docks, the air, the fog, or the ground itself, the quasi-children arrived, just as I’d expected and more or less feared. Everyone knew they existed. Everyone knew to not screw with them, like sharks or lightning. All three were completely avoidable dangers. Just like a surfer takes risks with sharks, I took risks with quasi-children by exposing a gun to open air.
The quasis encircled me, paying the rest of humanity no attention whatsoever. They stared me down with their black eyes and pale, serious faces. They all looked no older than ten, had no hair as if they were cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and were bone thin inside their tattered clothes. They looked like they should be dead. Many people believed they were ghosts or zombies, but I knew better. Ghosts don’t appear just because you draw a gun or try to employ any form of energy-using technology that’d harm the environment. Yep, those kids were Mother Nature’s latest way of protecting herself. The only way to combat them was to not use what made them appear. That’s it.